Blessing of the Animals

A message based on Luke 17:5-10
This week, driving back and forth from taking Fiona to school each morning, I saw six dead raccoons. I’m not sure why this week resulted in such a high casualty rate for their community, but for the first time ever, I actually passed two deceased raccoons on the same street just a few feet from one another.

It has always seemed strange to me that we have become so immune to the sacredness of life outside of the definitions of humanity, that our morning commute would go uninterrupted passing the corpse of a creature whose only desire at the moment of their death was to travel from one place to another.  I realize the unlikelihood of a community memorial in honor of a deceased raccoon. Raccoons are just raccoons after all; garbage scavengers, untamable and undomesticated. Perhaps less compassionate yet still pragmatic would be the removal of their corpse before it was run over once more.

The taste of their flesh, the weight of their pull or the products from their skins reflect extreme expressions of the same ordering we cast upon our own species. All creatures as commodity. The most arguably valuable of all being our pets.

Our scripture this morning may read unrelated to the blessing of the animals happening today but its focus on faith as having extraordinary potential for transforming the world into the image of its Creator offers us hope for reconciliation in a world that casts value upon only one species. Of course, we struggle with valuing our own species without discrimination. Each generation creating mini-hierarchies determining a person’s worth and place in society, usually based on defining qualities beyond one’s control.

In this context, a plethora of species, each an expression of God’s love and creativity, might have little hope of being valued as worthy of life or having sacred value. If people are valued for what they offer to any given society, it’s unlikely that animals would be subject to anything less than the same categorization and care. The taste of their flesh, the weight of their pull or the products from their skins reflect extreme expressions of the same ordering we cast upon our own species. All creatures as commodity. The most arguably valuable of all being our pets.

The relationship between a pet and their person proves an opportunity to realign the hierarchy of creation on a microscale. Our pets, for those of us here this morning, become a form of family.

Although the concept of having pets proves problematic in and of itself, ownership of a pet has the capacity to be a transforming experience for the human, once owner, now friend. The relationship between a pet and their person proves an opportunity to realign the hierarchy of creation on a microscale. Our pets, for those of us here this morning, become a form of family. They travel with us, sleep with us, eat with us, sit with us, wait for us. They, in the most obvious and consistent manner, display faithfulness as explained in this passage. The steadfast devotion with an ongoing commitment to practice forgiveness in the face of all of our flaws. Their captivity, regardless of how comfortable it may be, offers us freedom to experience unconditional love.

To whom do we belong is no longer a question answered with creed or doctrine but a visible act manifested in our relationship to all living beings.

Our faithfulness in return holds the potential to expand our definition of family and becomes a bridge to a re-bonding with all of Creation; our pets being perhaps the gateway love to a broader more divine version of relating to all animals. Our pets dependency on us invites a opening for a vision of interdependency between ourselves and all animals; re-visioning them as equally divine beings who share our sacred worth. Still, a true reordering is possible not when we see our animals as worthy as human status but when we begin to see ourselves as humans defined as animals, thriving in nature, and not apart from it.  Displaced from our self-appointed roles as demigods assigning label and value to each living creature, we sit within creation to open our understanding of a God present and participating in all of Creation. To whom do we belong is no longer a question answered with creed or doctrine but a visible act manifested in our relationship to all living beings.

I would like to live a life reflective of God’s ordering of creation; a flattened structure in which each has equal worth deserving of respectful relationship.

I would like to live a life reflective of God’s ordering of creation; a flattened structure in which each has equal worth deserving of respectful relationship. If I would define discipleship, this process of striving and failing and forgiving only to start all over again, it is a faithfulness to my belief in a Creator.  My care for animals expands beyond those which I claim to own as possessions as my self-perception of my placement in the hierarchy of creation sinks to a deeper and more purposeful place of belonging in the story of creation. Seated in the center of the interconnected web of creation, the paradigm shifts and the narrative opens.

We sit among, not over creation, in this vision. A humbling realization that God’s creation includes us as compassionate caretakers.

Pigs are not bacon and their suffering is not a joke on a T-shirt. Trees are not paper and the habitats of the animals who depend on them are not simply ours to take as we need. Raccoons are not disposable and the loss of their lives no longer goes unseen. We sit among, not over creation, in this vision. A humbling realization that God’s creation includes us as compassionate caretakers. That our cognitive gifts carry a creative responsibility to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed that which tastes good, that which consumes cheaply, if the cost is the sacred life of another sentient being designed by our Creator.

Faithfulness is the commitment to honor the sacred worth of all of God’s creation in the everyday behaviors of our lives. A visible and countercultural act that draws attention to God’s siding with the flourishing of all creatures. If the faith of a mustard seed has the power to inspire trees, then imagine what the faithfulness of one community could do to reorder the world to value all creations as sacred, beloved beings.